“We’ve talked about quite a few of our homes, and you’ve seen the photos online. Are you ready to make a decision about which of our vacation homes you’d like to stay in this summer?”
“No, not yet. I’m not sure.”
“Would you like to consider some other homes? I’m sure we have a home that will fit your family’s needs perfectly and that you’ll have a great vacation in.”
“I have to think about it.”
“Is there anything I can send you or provide that will help you with this decision?”
A pretty unpromising conversation with a potential guest, right? Wrong, says Brise Carpenter, customer success manager at NAVIS, a hospitality sales and marketing consultancy based in Bend, Oregon. With just a little effort from a VR, potential guests who are on the fence can be nudged into making the decision that will give them a great vacation and give the VR a new customer.
Speaking at a session during VRMA’s annual convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, titled “Driving New Revenue Through Second-Chance Bookings,” Carpenter noted that the value of the average follow-up is $153, which may not sound like a lot but the value of not following up is precisely $0. He calculated this figure by using a conservative 5 percent conversion rate and multiplying it by the average value of a stay divided by the number of unbooked leads. The result is the value of one unbooked lead — or, to put a positive spin on it, the value of turning an unbooked lead into a booking. ($153 is an industry average.)
“Second-chance bookings are a marketing opportunity. They are also an opportunity to showcase your excellent customer service,” Carpenter said.
Keys to Success
There are several keys to success, Carpenter pointed out. First, on the first or second inbound call from a potential guest, capture as much “lead” information as possible, including the caller’s name, email address, phone number, dates they’re considering for their stay, the reason for their stay, the caller’s price range and any personal information that’s appropriate, such as whether they will be bringing children and/or pets. “Put all this information into a lead system — Excel or any other good database management system,” he said. “Then, if you can, set an appointment time with the caller for a follow-up. Have them tell you the best time to call and the best number where you can reach them.”
Before making the follow-up call, review the lead information and develop a call plan, advised Carpenter.
“Remember, though, that your follow-up call isn’t a hard sell. You’re not calling them to sell them a credit card. They want to stay with you. In the follow-up, offer your potential guests a solution. Make them feel like a hero.”
When trying to pin down a reservation from a wavering potential guest, too many sales people make statements, he noted, rather than ask questions. “Here’s a good question that can get you some very valuable information: ‘What’s most important to you about this vacation?’”
Carpenter ticked off a list of best practices that help turn unbooked leads into rentals:
- Prioritize the leads you have:
- How close on the calendar is the potential stay?
- What’s the value to your VR of this stay?
- Is this a return guest?
- Once prioritized, assign unbooked leads to your top closers.
- Follow up quickly.
- Schedule call appointments with potential guests. Don’t rely on hoping to catch them at home.
- Use a reminder system. (“Outlook’s is great,” said Carpenter.)
- Adjust the status of the lead — good, poor, excellent, ready to make a decision, etc. — after each call.
- Follow up two to three times, and more often on expensive homes, but “stop short of harassment.”
- Consider email as part of the strategy, but phone calls are usually the most effective.
- Set monthly goals.
- Offer additional value to a wavering guest: local special events that might be taking place during the guest’s desired stay, festivals, concerts, shows, etc.
“Show a potential guest what’s in it for them if they book a reservation with you, but at the same time don’t train them to wait until the last minute or to wait for a discount,” said Carpenter. “Urgency and exclusivity are powerful motivators.”
As for the VR staff, he added, “Make it fun. Create a contest and award prizes to the people on your team who can turn the most unbooked leads into reservations. This is something that will benefit the entire organization, so give credit but also let people share in the credit.”